McConnell pushes back at Trump on flag-burning comments

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 The Hill's Morning Report - Dems contemplate big election and court reforms Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left MORE (R-Ky.) is taking issue with President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDem lawmaker says Electoral College was 'conceived' as way to perpetuate slavery Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals to visit White House on Monday Transportation Dept requests formal audit of Boeing 737 Max certification MORE's suggestion that flag burners go to jail or lose their citizenship.

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"The Supreme Court has held that that activity is a protected First Amendment right," McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. "In this country, we have a long history of protecting unpleasant speech."

McConnell, the Senate's top Republican, added that he supports the Supreme Court's 1989 decision in Texas v. Johnson that ruled flag burning to be free speech.

The Kentucky Republican defended flag burning in a 2006 op-ed.

"No act of speech is so obnoxious that it merits tampering with our First Amendment. Our Constitution, and our country, is stronger than that," he wrote at the time. "Ultimately, people like that pose little harm to our country. But tinkering with our First Amendment might."

He also voted against a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning.

The 2006 push to amend the Constitution fell one vote short of the 67-vote threshold needed to clear the Senate. McConnell was one of three Republicans who voted against the amendment, which would amend the constitution to prohibit flag burning. 

Then-GOP Sens. Lincoln Chaffee (R.I.) and Robert Bennett (Utah) also voted against the amendment. 

Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBernie campaign 2.0 - he's in it to win it, this time around Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ Senate confirms Trump court pick despite missing two 'blue slips' MORE (D-Nev.) was one of more than a dozen Senate Democrats who supported the failed amendment in 2006.

Reid said Tuesday that he doesn't support striking individuals who burn the flag of their citizenship, but didn't say if he still supports the amendment. 

"Let me remind you of this: We know that Trump tweeted that he feels that someone who burns the flag should lose their citizenship. I don't agree with him," he told reporters. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Dems want to abolish Electoral College because they 'want rural America to go away' Overwhelming majority of voters want final Mueller report released: poll Bottom Line MORE (R-S.C.), who voted for the 2006 amendment, told reporters Tuesday that he still supports criminalizing flag burning but does not back Trump's push to strip individuals of their citizenship. 

This story was updated at 3:54 p.m.